Rex Grossman inhaled deeply late Sunday afternoon before he stared into the cameras and explained the interception that jeopardized the Washington Redskins' seven-point fourth-quarter lead over the St. Louis Rams.
All he saw on the play was a wide open Santana Moss, he said. Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, who dropped in coverage and undercut the route, escaped his vision until it was too late.
"I can't let that happen," Grossman said. "That's definitely a mistake on my part."
To his credit, Grossman has been forthcoming while discussing his gaffes and has taken responsibility for them during the Redskins' 3-1 start. The downside is that he has had quite a few opportunities to do so.
Although Washington reached its bye week tied for first place in the NFC East, Grossman has not proved he can escape his reputation as a quarterback prone to turning the ball over. He has five interceptions and two lost fumbles in four games.
And considering the Redskins' offense has not accounted for more than 22 points in any game, their fate might just depend on whether Grossman can start protecting the ball.
"You have to have a guy who ... knows when he does make mistakes that he's going to keep on getting better and kind of keep on pushing himself and grinding," coach Mike Shanahan said Monday.
Perhaps the most distressing element, then, of Grossman's late interception against the Rams is that he was intercepted on a similar play against Dallas the previous week.
On both occasions, Grossman threw to his left to a receiver he believed was open. Both times he admittedly did not see the inside linebacker who swooped in from the right.
"Some [turnovers] you can avoid, and the ones that I can avoid [I must] continue to get better at," Grossman said. "The ones that you can't avoid, that's part of football. If you want to break those down, too, that might be an interesting stat as well."
Grossman was defending himself against a stat a reporter mentioned: He has turned the ball over 14 times in seven starts dating to last December.
His point had some merit. On his first interception Sunday, for example, his accurate throw slipped through Moss' hands and into cornerback Justin King's grasp.
And take Grossman's second interception against Arizona in Week 2. He appeared to lead Anthony Armstrong perfectly over the middle, but Armstrong's defender held him. The infraction was not penalized, and the ball tipped off Armstrong's fingers and into the hands of Cardinals defensive back Richard Marshall.
But if you take away those miscues, you must consider the potential interception that Rams safety Darian Stewart dropped just before halftime. He jumped a slant to Moss and the ball hit him in the hands. Stewart might have been returned it for a touchdown, but he dropped it.
In other words, some of Grossman's turnovers weren't his fault, but he also has gotten away with some poor decisions that don't show up on the stat sheet.
Shanahan has emphasized Grossman's mental toughness in reiterating his belief that Grossman is capable of running the offense at an optimal level. After the pick with 5 minutes, 30 seconds remaining against St. Louis, Shanahan gave Grossman a reassuring pat on the helmet when he returned to the sideline.
"For a quarterback, you have to be tough and thick-skinned," Shanahan said. "You understand that at the end of the day you have to win, and at the end of the day you have to be very tough on yourself because you have to think perfection. Anything less than perfection, and you don't have the right quarterback."
If winning is the ultimate measure, then Grossman can fall back on the important contributions he has made to each victory.
He threw two touchdowns in each of the Redskins' first two games. His touchdown pass to Moss on fourth down in the final minutes of the Arizona game arguably stands as the biggest play of Washington's season.
And in the first quarter against St. Louis, he beat a blitz on third-and-4 from the Rams' 6 with a beautifully lofted pass to Moss just inside the left sideline in the end zone.
So there are some positives on which to build. Grossman knows he must reproduce those plays for the Redskins to reach their goals.
"We're in a good spot with how we feel as a unit," Grossman said. "We know should do more on offense, and yet we're 3-1. That's a good feeling."
c Shanahan believes an injury was one reason running back Tim Hightower wasn't at his best against St. Louis. "Tim, unbeknownst to me, hurt his shoulder, like, on the third or fourth play in the game, and that was part of the reason he was a little more banged up than I first initially thought," Shanahan said.
c Brandon Banks has totaled only 19 yards on six punt returns in the past two games. "When you have 11 people out there - 10 people blocking, then a returner - it's a combination of everybody," Shanahan said. "It only takes one person" to ruin a return.
c Suspended cornerback Phillip Buchanon was at Redskins Park on Monday but was not reinstated. The Redskins will evaluate his injured shoulder before deciding his status.
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